Tess Bartlett from Whisperings of the mind wrote a post for Blog Society about comparison that blew my mind. So many insights from a very wise woman. Tess talks about using envy to absolve yourself of any responsibility for your own achievements. She says, “If you base your sense of meaning and accomplishment on what you don’t have, you are never going to feel any sense of fulfilment with what you do have.”
It made me wonder about the way some people parent their children, about how I parent my children. It’s easy to judge the father berating his son after the football match, telling him he wasn’t up to scratch – but if you look a little closer, that father’s longing to be raising the team superstar so obvious you have to look away. Or the mother who dismisses a credit score with a casual, “she’s capable of so much better” because, yes, mum was absolutely capable of so much better.
All the kids who are pushed into activities they are really not that into, their parents confusing their child’s joy at making mum and dad happy with a love of the activity itself. So the child plugs away at piano or ballet or even their maths, because doing well at those activities makes mum and dad’s eyes light up enough to hide the dullness in their own.
It comes from a good place, of course. We have dreams for our children based on our own experiences and dreams and we want to give them every opportunity we possibly can. We don’t want them to miss out on anything or be left behind in any way. Do we worry that if our child doesn’t fulfill their own potential that we will have failed to reach our own?
How often do we parent the child we think we want, rather than the child we actually have? How often do we miss out on the enjoyment of the person who is growing because we are too focused on the child we are parenting?
I know I am guilty of this, but I am working on it. I’m doing my absolute best to see my children as the people they are and working with them to discover what brings them joy. There is a part of me who desperately wants to raise society’s notion of “successful” people – the wealthy, powerful people who get to make the rules the rest of us follow – but the bigger part of me knows that the only true success is being happier a great deal more often than not and the only way to achieve that is through knowing yourself without interference or judgement.
I have found that the most unhappy people seem to want to raise their children in the same way they were raised and I don’t understand that at all. As if by continuing to mold generation after generation in exactly the same way they will eventually find a person that the mold actually fits. Maybe they will get lucky – maybe one of them is raising a kid who is destined to be completely fulfilled by the pursuit of the dollar and the admiration of others but I have yet to meet a person like that, so I suspect that kid doesn’t actually exist.
There are many “successful” people in my life, but they are rarely the ones who confess to utter happiness after a few too many glasses of wine. They want something “different” for their children, but they will not – somehow cannot – give up the notion that their children need to be rich and powerful in order to be successful. They cannot give up the notion that they can somehow “build” a person rather than simply raise one.
So many parents fight their children’s choices and while that’s a necessity of the job when it comes to their safety or wellbeing, it is an ugly mistake when it comes to their sense of self and the value they bring. I want to focus on both my children’s “cans” and their “can’ts” – to listen when they mention either and be respectful of their choices. Are they telling me they “can’t” do something that I want them to do, or something they want to do? Am I noticing the things they can do enough?
I think it’s definitely time for me to stop comparing my children to the ideal I have in my head. Because I’m certain that if I don’t, comparison will definitely be the thief of joy.